By Jay Kirell
Recently two things occurred in the world of professional wrestling that shook its fans to the very core. First, the performer known as The Undertaker (real name Mark Calloway) lost for the first time at the WWE’s flagship pay-per-view event – WrestleMania. An outcome even the most tuned-in wrestling fans never saw coming.
The second was the death of performer famously known to many as the Ultimate Warrior (birth name James Hellwig and legal name – seriously – Warrior) one night after appearing on the WWE’s highly-watched Monday Night RAW television show. Warrior died last Tuesday outside of a hotel in Arizona at the age of 54.
As news of his death quickly spread, thoughts and condolences poured in from fellow wrestlers and fans, thanking him for his years of entertainment and joy he brought to them.
A few days later, word started circling that the WWE would be honoring the Ultimate Warrior with a special tribute episode of its Monday night program. “Tributes” in pro wrestling terms, can mean different things depending on the level of popularity a performer attained in his career.
In the instance of lower-level performers, a blank screen RIP tribute is usually flashed on camera for a few moments such as the one for the wrestler Nelson Frazier, who performed under the name Big Daddy V and died just two months ago.
This was his “tribute” as it appeared on screen:
Other performers have received increased levels of “tribute” – most recently deceased female performer Mae Young (who died three months ago at age of 90) who received a video package.
While a picture or short video clip might be the common way the WWE pays its respects to its past performers, a “tribute” like the one being planned for Monday’s show will apparently resemble the one the organization gave to Owen Hart.
Hart’s death famously occurred while he fell from a scaffolding while preparing his entrance during a pay-per-view event in 1999. The next night on RAW, the WWE dedicated the entire (then) two-hour show to memory of Hart, with a 10-bell salute, pre-taped statements from his friends and colleagues, as well as matches that were dedicated in his honor.
It was quite the touching sentiment – unfortunately repeated a few times over the years as the early part of the 2000’s saw dozens of wrestlers drop dead between 2000 and 2009.
The difference between the special tributes and who gets what type is completely arbitrary and based on the whims of the people deciding things in WWE management – namely, the owner of the company, Vince McMahon.
Apparently McMahon is under the impression that the Ultimate Warrior is worthy of the most special of tributes the company bestows on a fallen performer. After all, they had seemingly patched up what had been a strained relationship with a Hall of Fame induction ceremony that took place over WrestleMania weekend. McMahon not only brought the Ultimate Warrior back to induct him into his faux Hall of Fame (there’s no actual physical location), he also reported had signed him to a “Legends contract” which essentially amounts to being a brand ambassador for the company.
And then on Tuesday, he died. Shocking everyone.
The impulse for a tribute show is no-doubt great amongst the Ultimate Warrior’s many childhood fans, who only might only remember him as the muscle-bound, sprinting ball of energy who defeated Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI.
What they might not remember, however, is just how cruel the man behind the Ultimate Warrior character was. Specifically, the racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic statements he became infamous for. For those who might not be aware, “Warrior” as he preferred to be called, was very political. Specifically, he was what could be loosely considered a staunch conservative.
Nothing inherently wrong with having strong political views. Lord knows I have them. But the former grappler went well beyond just having strong views. He openly mocked and ridiculed people he felt were beneath him and his view of how the world should be.
Here are just a few examples:
(1) When he was asked to appear on the wrestling-themed talk show “Byte This!” TV show he rejected the invitation to appear, writing a letter to the hosts (Todd Grisham and former wrestler Droz, who was paralyzed after an accident in the ring) which read, in part: “Order the queer and the cripple who host the show to read what I have written here…”
(2) While appearing at the University of Connecticut, he bashed multiculturalism and tolerance, saying they have resulted in a society where “the bum is as legitimate as the businessman…that queers are as legitimate as heterosexuals…that Kwanza is just as legitimate as Santa Claus and Christmas.”
(3) Also at UCONN he told a gay student to “take that object out of your mouth when speaking to me”
(4) He also mocked a woman upset at his homophobic remarks and told her “Don’t have an orgasm honey.”
(5) When an Iranian student asked a question, Warrior told the student to “get a towel.”
(6) Also at the UCONN appearance he played a video of himself ripping an Iraqi flag to pieces.
(7) Following the death of actor Heath Ledger (who starred in the gay-themed movie Brokeback Mountain), Warrior commented: “After all, Leather Hedger [sic] did what it took to kill himself. His kid is without a father, yes, but the negative influence is now removed and his own child has the chance for a full recovery”
This is who the WWE is choosing to honor Monday night. This is who the WWE is paying “tribute” to.
Now, I should state that while I do not believe every wrestler’s political views need to be known and judged before they can honor the in-ring legacy of that wrestler, it’s rather difficult for me to separate the two in the case of the Ultimate Warrior.
Someone’s words and actions become part of who they are, and cannot be separated, even in death. So while I feel horrible for Warrior’s wife and two young daughters, I shed no tears for the man himself. As a professional wrestler he was limited in ability, but as a human being, a lot of evidence points to him being even more limited.
Some might say the WWE, and Vince McMahon specifically, has the right to honor whoever they want. It is their company. Well, that is true to a certain extent. For many years the WWE was McMahon’s personal sandbox, he owned it outright and could do and say whatever he wanted on his programming.
Today, however, the WWE is a publically-traded company worth upwards of $500 million (more than most NHL or NBA franchises), with a board of directors and charity programs touting diversity and anti-bullying. It knows it has a certain image to uphold, even if the common stereotype of the WWE is that of a cartoony rasslin’ show.
So it remains curious the company would choose to pay tribute to someone who bullied so many with his hurtful words. Someone who gave no quarter to the living or the dead. Someone who chose to divide people into two groups – his “warriors” and those who were an abomination to him.
Many of the WWE’s fans are women, the disabled, gay or some form of minority. They might also be fans of the Ultimate Warrior. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a fan of them.
Why dedicate a whole show to someone like that?